Conservators and Conservation Technicians

Conservation professionals generally choose to specialize in one area of work defined by medium, such as in the preservation of books and paper, architecture, objects, photographic materials, paintings, textiles, or wooden artifacts. There are also conservators who specialize in archaeology or ethnographic materials. Many are employed by museums, while others provide services through private practice. Conservation activities include carrying out technical and scientific studies on art objects, stabilizing the structure and reintegrating the appearance of cultural artifacts, and establishing the environment in which artifacts are best preserved. A conservator's responsibilities also may include documenting the structure and condition through written and visual recording, designing programs for preventive care, and executing conservation treatments. Conservation tools include microscopes and cameras and equipment for specialized processes such as infrared and ultraviolet photography and X-rays.

Conservation technicians assist conservators in preserving or restoring artifacts and art objects. To do this, they study descriptions and information about the object, and may perform chemical and physical tests as specified by the conservator. If an object is metal, a technician may be instructed to clean it by scraping or by applying chemical solvents. Statues are washed with soap solutions, and furniture and silver is polished.

When a repair is necessary, conservation technicians may be asked to reassemble the broken pieces using glue or solder (a metallic substance used to join metal surfaces), then buff the object when the repair is complete. They may repaint objects where the original paint is faded or missing, making sure to use paint of the same chemical composition and color as the original. Technicians may also make and repair picture frames and mount paintings in frames.

A conservation scientist is a professional scientist whose primary focus is in developing materials and knowledge to support conservation activities. Some specialize in scientific research into artists' materials, such as paints and varnishes or photographic emulsions. Conservation educators have substantial knowledge and experience in the theory and practice of conservation, and have chosen to direct their efforts toward teaching the principles, methodology, and technical aspects of the profession. Preparators supervise the installation of specimens, art objects, and artifacts, often working with design technicians, curators, and directors to ensure the safety and preservation of items on display.

Next Section: Earnings

Career Update Newsletter

Tips and tools to help you manage your ideal career.